New publication (and the story behind it): “Journalism Studies and its Core Commitments: The Making of a Communication Field”

I’m excited to announce this publication as the lead article to the latest issue of Journal of Communication, the flagship journal of the International Communication Association:

Carlson, M., Robinson, S., Lewis, S. C., & Berkowitz, D. A. (2018). Journalism studies and its core commitments: The making of a communication field. Journal of Communication, 68(1), 6-25. doi:10.1093/joc/jqx006 (PDF)

Here is the abstract:

This article conceptualizes the distinctiveness of fields of scholarship within the discipline of communication through particular normative assumptions and identity practices defined here as commitments. A case study of journalism studies results in the postulation of six conceptual commitments that define its core ontological and epistemological premises: contextual sensitivity, holistic relationality, comparative inclination, normative awareness, embedded communicative power, and methodological pluralism. These interrelated features articulate the central dimensions of journalism studies, establishing the boundaries of the field and its relational, cultural, holistic, ecological, and contextual acts of scholarship. This article provides a blueprint for other communication scholars to address assumptions and commitments that situate and define their subdisciplines as distinct fields.

And here is the story behind the publication…

At the AEJMC conference in San Francisco in 2015, we began discussing: What is journalism studies, anyway? What demarcates it as a “thing” in communication research? And so, the “Iowa Group” was formed: in February 2016, Matt Carlson (Saint Louis University), Sue Robinson (University of Wisconsin), and I (representing University of Minnesota at the time) drove exactly four hours each to centrally located Iowa City, where we met up with Dan Berkowitz, a longtime traveler in this line of thinking and our host at the University of Iowa.

The four of us spent a Friday hashing out various dimensions, orientations, and predilections in journalism studies—what made it interesting, even unique, as a domain of research within the larger study of communication. How can we take this field of research, which has grown so fast and traveled so far in less than two decades, and apply to it a sense of contour and identity? How might we build upon the distinctiveness of journalism studies—a domain with an emerging set of core dimensions—to outline a pattern for how other scholars might address the underlying assumptions and epistemologies that define other subfields?

At the end of our daylong discussion, we shared our (very preliminary) ideas with faculty and graduate students in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Iowa. They offered a number of key comments and suggestions. Later, we settled on six interrelated commitments that speak to core dimensions of journalism studies:

• contextual sensitivity
• holistic relationality
• comparative inclination
• normative awareness
• embedded communicative power
• methodological pluralism

As we say in the paper: “None of these dimensions is unique to journalism studies. Many other fields espouse similar commitments as part of their own efforts to identify the normative assumptions embedded in their research. But, as a whole, these commitments coalesce into a particular perspective optimized for the challenges of studying the complexities of contemporary journalism. They commitments comprise the heart of journalism studies scholarship.”

After explaining each of the six commitments, we write:

“Taken together, these commitments indicate, first, a shift away from the analysis of journalism according to assumed normative perspectives or as an unexamined actor whose texts have effects on audiences and social institutions. Journalism—or news, more specifically—is not reduced to the independent variable, but instead invites scrutiny as part of a holistic system of interlinking institutions. Second, these commitments reject simplified perspectives that reify journalism as a single ‘thing’ to instead situate journalism within the larger ecological conditions of media, culture, and society. Finally, they indicate a critique of universal principles, celebrate nuance with contextualization, and emphasize an intense awareness of relationality while still foregrounding a concern with power. If journalism studies is to be a useful field, it must recognize what its commitments are and how they contribute to an understanding of journalism that helps make sense of its symbolic power.”

We won’t pretend that this is the final word about journalism studies—and undoubtedly there will be differences of opinion about the commitments we have outlined. Debates are most welcome! They are good for the continued development of journalism studies as a field.